Best Scotch for a Special Occasion

Credit: Herkie

Credit: Herkie

“What is the best scotch for a special occasion?”

A reader recently emailed me that question and I absolutely loved it. In Chinese culture (and many many others), alcohol features prominently in celebrations of any kind. Almost every family has a few bottles of something (usually Remy Martin XO, a cognac, for whatever reason) they reserve for a special occasion.

So I loved this question and here’s my stab at answering it.

First, special occasions come in all shapes and sizes. Is it an important business meeting? Celebration of a monumental achievement like a graduation or a wedding? Or perhaps it’s an old friend you haven’t seen in years coming over? Different occasions call for different things.

It’s important to remember that there is no right answer to this question. Celebrations are about the people in attendance, not what they’re drinking, and so you really can’t go wrong with the scotch if you’re right about the people.

Whatever You LOVE

I had the idea that you need to spend a ton of money in the name of a “celebration.” Just buy a bottle of whatever you absolutely love, that puts a smile on your face whenever a drop touches your lips, and keep that around for special occasions. Good scotch doesn’t have to cost thousands of dollars and chances are you’ve developed a love of something that doesn’t break the bank.

Buy that, pour it in a glencairn, sip and celebrate.

OK, now that I’m off the soapbox… 🙂

An Affordable Scotch for a Special Occasion

Credit: guzzphoto

Credit: guzzphoto

Some can spend $27,000 on a bottle of scotch and others find it difficult to spend $100, which is nearly fourteen hours of minimum wage work before you take out taxes.

I want to offer two options for a delicious affordable Scotch you can break out for a special occasion – the first is The Macallan 12. Macallan has a rich history and a pedigree that boosts it’s price tag by a few dollars, but it’s a history and pedigree that most are familiar with. For $50-60 a bottle (Glenlivet 12 is under $40), you bring that majesty to your celebration.

The next one is one I chose because it’s unique – Talisker 10 Year (~$50 also). It’s not difficult to find but I like it for special occasions because it’s so different. It’s the only distillery on Skye and the mix of the seaweed/seasalt and the smokiness make for a really intriguing single malt. It’s special in flavor and while I’d drink it more often than on special occasions, it does make for a distinctive experience.

A Less-Affordable Scotch

Credit: sentxd

Credit: sentxd

What if your price points jump higher – to say under $200?

At this point, I’d say go with Macallan 18 or Johnnie Walker Blue.

I enjoy Johnnie Walker Blue but I think it’s overpriced for what it is. It’s definitely marked up because of the brand name (to be fair, many are but JW Blue carries that luxury premium unlike any other) and so I mention it simply because it’s a good blended scotch that universally recognized. If you’re celebrating this with folks, they know you’re celebrating.

Macallan 18 is my pick for a $200 bottle celebratory scotch whisky. For many of the same non-Scotch reasons as the 12 but now you add the fact that Macallan 18 is delicious. You will find no argument on that score, the only arguments are typically around price as you can find other delicious scotch whiskies for less.

An “Extravagant” Scotch

For this, you could pick any number of whiskies that have big age statement numbers or high price tags, but I wanted to go in a different direction with this. Here are some ideas of extravagance that refer not to the price tag necessarily but to the emotion.

First, if you’ve ever traveled to a distillery and they offer a way to bottle your own – do it. My friend Rick went to Aberlour and was able to hand fill his own bottle of cask strength whisky. That’s pretty cool, unique, and it’s not that much more expensive (not counting airfare and lodging!).

Rick: It was exclusive to the tour and hand fill process. If I remember correctly, the bottle was around £50-75 which isn’t crazy for scotch, especially for 15-yr single barrel expression. My memory is of an A’bunadh like scotch, but cleaner, smoother, and nicer. A’bunadh goes for £40 retail and £32 on sale so a bit of markup on the hand fill for a similar bottle, but not too bad.

Plus it is in a nice wooden presentation case. If I paid 75 for a nice bottle right now retail I wouldn’t think as highly of it (the retail bottle) so there is an intrinsic value of the experience.

Reader David from Italy shared an idea in the Facebook group (free to join) about buying a bottle distilled in the year you were born (or a significant year). If you’re aiming to open the bottle for when your kid graduates college, buy it now when it’s cheaper and then wait to open it. Personally, being born in 1980, I can find one with that date and not have it be exorbitant.

Good luck you folks who have a few years on me. 🙂

Finally, next time you’re in duty free, buy something that looks sexy on the shelf. Maybe it’s something in a wooden case or some other accoutrement, but it just looks bad ass. It’s something that, when you look at it on the shelf, you’re reminded of what’s to come and what’s worth celebrating.

For me, I bought a bottle of Glenlivet Archive 21 because I love Glenlivet and it came in this beautiful box. I also bought it at a time when spending $180 on a bottle of anything was a huge stretch. It acts as a reminder of an earlier time and I love seeing it.

What scotch do you have saved up for a special occasion? (And what’s the occasion?)

Is Older Scotch Always Better Scotch?

macallan-anniversary-malt-25When you walk into your local liquor store in search of your favorite spirit, what do you notice at the top of the shelves? Usually it’s the pricier stuff at the top and the pricier stuff is often the “oldest” stuff. An 18 year old scotch is always more expensive than its 15 or 12 year old brother. A 30 year old is often even pricier. The older the age statement, the more expensive the scotch.

The real question, however, is – is older is always better?

My gut feeling, and it’s definitely a gut feeling, is that older can be better but that’s not always the case. My favorite story about aging whisky was when my wife and I went to The Macallan distillery. We took the tour and then opted for the Most Precious version, which involved enjoying several drams of nearly their entire line of scotch. My wife isn’t a fan of whisky so she took a tiny sip of each and made her usual face. She enjoys the smell, she just finds the taste overpowering. That is… until she tried the 30 Year Fine Oak. At a retail price of around $900, I’m not surprised she was a fan.

The oldest scotch I’d ever had is that 30 Year Fine Oak during the distillery tour (I’ve had it a couple times since on special occasions) but I routinely have 12, 15, and 18 year old scotches from the same distillery. I’ve always found that the 18 year old is usually smoother and has less bite to it as compared to the younger versions. In some cases, I like that bite (for example, I prefer the Glenlivet 12 because the heat from the alcohol and the spiciness on the finish complement each other), but in others I don’t. It’s a matter of preference.

Next, is there such a thing as too old? Kara Newman of Slate tried some 50 year old Glenfiddich and was wondering that very thing. She asked a few knowledgeable folks and the answer is that yes, it can be too old. Ultimately, it comes down to preference. The longer it’s in the barrel, the more the barrel imparts on the spirit. Can it do too much? Of course. I enjoyed that she asked several experts in different spirits, not just whiskies, but I wasn’t surprised by the answer.

Older isn’t always better but it often is. Now is it worth it to buy the older bottle? That’s up to you. You can buy over four bottles of Macallan 18 for just one bottle of Macallan 30 – which do you think is a better deal? 🙂

(Photo Credit: Pops.)

Is Macallan 12 Being Discontinued?

macallan12No The Macallan 12 is not being discounted, don’t freak out. 🙂

I wasn’t trying to be sensational with the title (which is why the answer isn’t buried somewhere in the middle of the post) but this was the title of a Whisky Magazine forum thread around the middle of last year and this was just a few months after Diageo announced that Johnnie Walker Green would be discontinued. While the Macallan is owned by the Edrington Group, a different company responsible for other single malts like Highland Park), I think people were on edge that their favorite scotches would be going away.

Fortunately, The Macallan 12 sells quite well (one reason why JW Green was discontinued) and people might have misread the announcement that The Macallan was replacing their travel retail-only (duty free) offerings with no-age statement single malts. The 10, 12, and 15 would be replaced by Select Oak, Whisky Maker’s Edition, and Estate Reserve.

The thread also highlights one important thing everyone should do when you hear rumors – ask the source. In the thread, a representative from Macallan eventually registered and commented that there were no plans to discontinued Macallan 12. It’s the type of thing that I don’t believe they’d lie about just to keep things under wraps.

So, The Macallan 12 is here to stay but don’t go looking for it in duty free, those have long been replaced with travel retail-only bottlings (in 2009).

Islay vs. Speyside Scotch

It’s very difficult to mass categorize the wonderful spirits of Scotland’s myriad collection of distilleries but if one were forced two, the easiest buckets to put them in are based on smokiness. On one side, we have the heavily “peated,” smokey stylings of Scotch produced on the island of Islay. On the other, we have absolutely no smoke and no peat and the most popular area for that is a toss up between the Highland region and Speyside.
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Dazzling Macallan 18 Year Holiday Box

Macallan 18 Year Holiday BoxMacallan is one of my favorite single malt Scotches and this holiday season, shipping in November, Macallan will be offering a new eye-catching dazzling box for all your gift giving needs (hint hint, nudge nudge). A photo of the new box is to the right. The bottling will be their most well known 18 Year, aged in Sherry Oak casks from Jerez, Spain (as opposed to their Fine Oak line), so nothing about the Scotch itself changes. What you get, for the same price, is a limited edition dazzling box that will definitely shine in your Scotch case or bar.

I visited the Macallan distillery about a year ago, took part in their Most Precious Tour and had a fantastic time. I sampled everything from their New Make Whisky to their 30 Year Fine Oak and can say that my favorite was the Macallan 18. The 30 Year was fantastic but you simply can’t beat the quality and price point of the Macallan 18 (around $150 for 750 mL).

If you aren’t sure what to get your favorite Scotch loving friend this winter, consider an old favorite in a fancy limited edition box. 🙂